23. And when by voices [suffrages] they had ordained them elders through all churches, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, in whom they had believed.24. And passing over through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.25. And when they had spoken the word at Perga, they went down to Attalia: 26. And thence they sailed to Antioch, from whence they were commended to the grace of God unto the work which they had fulfilled.27. And when they were come, when the Church was gathered together, they showed what great things God had done by them, and that he had opened to the Gentiles the door of faith.28. And they were there no small time with the disciples.
23. When they had ordained elders. By this it appeareth sufficiently, that it is not enough if men have been once taught the doctrine of godliness, and to have [hold] the sum of faith, unless they go forward continually; therefore, Christ did not only send his apostles to preach the gospel, but he commanded also that there should be pastors appointed, that the preaching of the gospel might be perpetual and in daily use. Paul and Barnabas do mark that this order was set down by Christ, when they assigned pastors to every church, lest, after their departure, doctrine should cease and be whisht, (silent.) Furthermore, this place teacheth, that the Church cannot want an ordinary ministry, neither can any be counted Christians before God but those who, during their whole life, are willing to learn. I take it that those are called elders, in this place, who had the office of teaching enjoined them; for it appeareth by Paul that some were only censors of manners, and such as had authority to punish enormities, (1 Timothy 5:17.) Now, forasmuch as Luke saith, that they were set over every church, the difference between their office and the office of the apostles is gathered hence. For the apostles had no certain place of abode, but they went to and fro to found new churches; but pastors were set and appointed, every man to his own church, and were, as it were, placed to watch over their congregations.
Had ordained by election. The Greek word cheirotonein doth signify to decree, or ordain a thing, by lifting up the hands, as they used to do in the assemblies of the people. Notwithstanding, the ecclesiastical writers do often use the word cheirotoneia, in another sense; to wit, for their [the] solemn rite of ordaining, which is called in Scripture laying on of hands. Furthermore, by this manner of speech is very excellently expressed the right way to ordain pastors. Paul and Barnabas are said to choose elders. Do they this alone by their private office? Nay, rather they suffer the matter to be decided by the consent of them all. Therefore, in ordaining pastors the people had their free election, but lest there should any tumult arise, Paul and Barnabas sit as chief moderators. Thus must the decree of the council of Laodicea be understood, which forbiddeth that the people have liberty granted them to elect.
They having prayed with fasting. They had a double end and reason of their prayer; the first, that God would direct them with the spirit of wisdom and discretion to choose the best and most meet men, for they knew that they were not furnished with so great wisdom but they might be deceived; neither did they so much trust to their diligence, but that they knew that the principal point did consist in the blessing of God, as we see men's judgments err daily where the heavenly government is not, and that all their labor is nothing worth where the hand of God is not. These be the true signs and tokens of the godly to call upon the Spirit of God, that he may govern their counsels. And if so be it this rule be to be observed in all businesses so often as the government of the Church is in hand, which dependeth wholly upon his will and pleasure, we must beware that we attempt nothing unless we have him for our guide and governor. And the second end of their prayer was, that God would furnish with necessary gifts those pastors which were chosen. For it is a harder matter to fulfill such a function faithfully as a man ought, than that man's strength is sufficient for it. Therefore, they crave God's help even in this part also, having Paul and Barnabas for their authors.
They fast likewise, that even that may be a help to stir up the ferventness of their prayers; for we know how great our coldness is otherwise. Not because it is always necessary that we should pray fasting, seeing that God doth invite even those who are full to give thanks; but when we are urged by any necessity to pray more fervently than we used commonly to do, this is a very profitable provokement. And now we have already declared what a weighty matter the choosing of pastors is, wherein the soundness of the Church is handled. Wherefore, no marvel if Luke write that they used extraordinary prayers. And it is profitable for us to mark this use, and other [uses] of fasting, lest we imagine with the Papists that it is a meritorious work, or lest we place the worship of God in it, seeing it is of itself nothing, neither is it of any importance with God, save only inasmuch as it is referred unto another end.
They committed themselves to the Lord. We gather hereby, first, what great care Paul and Barnabas had for the salvation of those who, by their industry, were turned unto the Lord; for they testify, that in this infirmity of the flesh men be subject to more dangers, than that their faith can continue steadfast through his [its] own strength. Therefore, this is the only refuge and aid, if the Lord keep them continually whom he hath once received. And when Luke saith, that they were commended to God in whom they believed, there cometh no small confidence hence unto us; because he assigneth this office to God as proper to him, to save and defend all those who by true faith have embraced his word.
24. Passing through Pisidia. We have already said that Paul and Barnabas came to Antioch of Pisidia. Being now about to return to Antioch of Syria, whence they were sent away, they go through Pamphylia, which is the middle region toward the mount Taurus. And Perga and Attalia are cities lying near together. And whereas Luke saith, that they preach the Word in the one only, we may thereby guess that they had not opportunity offered them everywhere to teach, which they were wont to neglect or let pass nowhere.
26. When they had been commended. Luke might have said that they were ordained there to be the apostles of the Gentiles; but by a circuit of words he doth more plainly express that they were neither sent away of men, neither did they attempt any thing trusting to their own strength, but that their whole journey, together with the success, was committed to God, the author thereof. Therefore, their preaching was no man's work, but a work of the grace of God. And the word grace is referred as well unto the power and efficacy of the Spirit, as also unto all the rest of the signs of favor; because all those gifts be free which God bestoweth upon his servants. And the sentence may be thus resolved, that they prayed God that he would show forth his grace to further the labors of his servants.
27. After they had called the Church together. As those who return from an embassage used to give an account of their acts, so Paul and Barnabas declared to the Church all the sum of their voyage, that it may thereby appear what good success they had, and how faithfully they behaved themselves in their office; and also that they may exhort the faithful to give thanks to God, as the thing itself gave them large matter; therefore Luke saith, Not that they did extol the things which they themselves had done, but whatsoever things the Lord had done by them. It is word for word with them; but according to the phrase of the Hebrew tongue, it is all one as if it had been said, in them, or by them, or towards them, or simply to them, in the dative case. Therefore Luke doth not say sun autois, but meta auton; which I say for this cause, lest any unskillful man ascribe some part of the praise to Paul and Barnabas, as if they had been partners with God in the work; whereas he doth rather make him the only author of all those famous facts which they had done.
Luke addeth immediately after, that the Lord had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles; for though they were sent unto the Gentiles, yet the strangeness [novelty] of the matter causeth them to wonder not a little; and not only the sudden change did make the Jews astonished, but also because it was to them as it were a monster, that unclean men, and such as were strangers from the kingdom of God, should be mixed with the holy seed of Abraham, that they might both together make one and the same Church of God. They are now taught by the event itself, that it was not for nothing that there were apostles sent to them. Moreover, it is said that the door of faith was set open to the Gentiles, not only because the gospel was preached to them with the external voice, but because, being illuminated by the Spirit of God, they were called effectually unto the faith. The kingdom of heaven is indeed set open to us by the external preaching of the gospel; but no man entereth in save he to whom God reacheth out his hand; no man draweth near unless he be drawn inwardly by the Spirit. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas show and prove by the effect that their calling was approved and ratified by God, because the faith of the Gentiles was, as it were, a seal engraven by the hand of God to establish the same, as Paul saith, (Romans 16:25; 2 Corinthians 3:7.)